KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Florida starting middle linebacker David Reese made an impactful return Saturday night against Tennessee after missing the first three games of the season with an ankle injury.
On his fifth play of the game, he recovered a fumble on the Vols’ 21-yard that was caused by rush end Jachai Polite’s hit on UT quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.
The early turnover led to a 1-yard TD pass from Feleipe Franks to tight end R.J. Raymond and set the turnover trend in UF’s favor for the rest of the half.
Moments later, defensive tackle Luke Ancrum intercepted a screen pass that led to a 1-yard TD run by Franks.
The Gators went on to recover two more fumbles in the first half.
Reese’s fumble recovery was not his only big play in the first half. He and Cece Jefferson combined to bring down UT tailback Tim Jordan in the end zone for a safety in the second quarter.
Reese, who is considered UF’s best run-stopping linebacker, had five tackles in the first half.
UF coach Dan Mullen has been stressing relentless effort since he arrived in Gainesville. And that’s exactly what cornerback CJ Henderson showed on a play that appeared would be a UT touchdown but turned into a touchback and a turnover.
On a fourth-and-one from the UT 45, Guarantano found tight end Austin Pope all alone behind the UF secondary. It looked like it was going to be a TD as he raced down the sideline, but Henderson, perhaps the Gators’ fastest player, blazed across the field and hit Pope inside the 5-yard line. The ball popped out and bounced through the back of the end zone for the touchback.
UF fans stay away
Playing Tennessee in Knoxville used to be a big draw for Florida fans looking to travel to a game.
Things have obviously changed.
There was very little blue in the sea or orange at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.
UT made 7,500 tickets available to UF this summer, but the school asked for only 2,700. UF ended up returning about 200 unsold tickets to Tennessee. The single-game tickets UT made available to Florida were $105 each.
For last year’s game in The Swamp, Tennessee sold only about 3,700 of the 8,500 tickets that were available to the school by UF.
Reunion night in Neyland
Assistant coaches from both schools had a chance to reunite with their former team and players.
Chris Rumph, the UT co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, spent the past three seasons as the Gators’ defensive line coach. He was also the co-offensive coordinator last season.
Three UF assistants were making a return to Neyland Stadium — tight ends coach Larry Scott, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri and cornerbacks coach Charlton Warren.
Scott and Warren held the same coaching responsibilities with the Vols last season. Sunseri was the UT defensive coordinator in 2012.
Warren was asked last week if it would be weird returning to Neyland Stadium.
“No. No it will not be,” he said.
This, that and the other
For only the second time in the UF-UT rivalry, both schools have new head coaches. The first time came in 1970, when Doug Dickey went from Tennessee to his alma mater (Florida) and Bill Battle took over the UT program. It was not a happy return to Knoxville for Dickey, whose Gators were thrashed 38-7. … Four true freshmen have started games for the Vols this season, three in the secondary — safety Trevon Flowers, cornerback Alontae Taylor and cornerback Bryce Thompson. The other freshman starter has been offensive guard Jerome Cavin. … Heading into Saturday night’s game, UT’s all-time record on ESPN stood at 38-31-2. … The Vols honored their 1998 national championship team in a halftime ceremony. UT beat UF 20-17 in overtime that year. … UT’s coaching staff has combined to win 13 national championships and 20 conference championships. … UF’s game captains Saturday night were senior offensive tackle Martez Ivey and senior rush end Cece Jefferson.